As I’m reading this book, “Practicing the Presence of People”, the chapters on Friendship hit me deeply. And I’m able to embrace the sadness of losing my best friend, Carmen, for the first time. I did mourn her passing, six and a half years ago (May 2002) and though I wept, I never really allowed myself to feel the sadness and accept the loss.
I was afraid of feeling sorry for myself, that poor-me wasn’t going to have a best friend anymore; when I should have been feeling grateful for having her as such a close companion and connected consort for 17 years. So I got busy honing in on my gratefulness and forgot to allow myself to feel sad. What I realize now, is that Carmen had it all figured out a long time ago, I just wasn’t able to see it until now. She knew what it was to feel sad, she felt it, deeply...that’s why she was able to experience so much joy in daily living! She’d discovered the secret to “true” joy was “true” sadness; that’s why she was happy all the time!
A very close mutual friend of ours from high school, has reminded me a couple of times along my journey that years ago, while we were still big-haired teens at Sardis High, she asked Carmen the hard question “How can you be happy all the time?” and Carmen replied, in not her usual bubbly self, “What am I suppose to do, walk around crying all the time?!?” Though stunned by her blunt, honest, real, sad and hard reply, she knew it was the truth and deeply respected her for it. Many may have thought that Carmen walked around in blissful denial, but I assure you; she did not.
Carmen knew that walking around crying wasn’t going to change her circumstances or make it easier on anyone around her, but she embraced her sadness and choose to be joy-filled. She made an active effort, every morning, (as she sprayed her hair and put on her high-tops) to see that day as a gift from God.
I still see my friendship with Carmen being one of my life’s greatest gifts and mysteries, I miss her deeply on a regular basis, and I’m sad she’s not here though I continue to receive goodness from her giving spirit. I sense her presence, which I can’t explain and on a regular basis I delight in the fact that our oldest daughter (Carmen-Elizabeth) bares a cheek dimple that only reminds me of her all the more.
I’ve found the highs of my life since then, the birth of the girls, our amazing house, my cancer-free diagnosis would have been sweeter, if she’d been here to share them with; and the lows of fighting illness and the sickness of cancer treatment would have felt easier if she’d been here to soften the blows. Each high and low brings a new mourning.
But that’s it, isn’t it!!! Because I had Carmen in my life in the first place, I know forever more that each “New Morning” will bring a softer and easier new day. When life is just plain “hard”, reflecting on Carmen’s life, then and now, just makes it easier. So “now and then”, I make a point of remembering all the good times we had together.
Thank God I decided to receive Carmen as a friend when we were 13 and in the 8th grade. She sent me a note in 8th grade socials studies class that said, Can I be your friend? Mark an “X” next to Yes or No. Am I ever glad I marked the YES box!! I knew then that having Carmen as a closest friend wasn’t going to be “safe”, but it was going to be easy. I knew then that my life would be forever changed for the better, if only to have her there, close by, for a short while. I also knew then that my life would experience a devastating blow with the loss of her. No matter what, I decided that I wouldn’t have any regrets; because anytime with her was going to be positively life altering and worth it. I’m glad I was able to understand the blessing that Carmen was, even at the age of 13.
Carmen had found out just a few months before, that she had an inoperable brain malformation that would cause her premature death. They told her that she was a “ticking time bomb that could go off at anytime.” She received all of the medical intervention that she could and she carried on with her life. She didn’t just carry on; she carried everyone around her along with her. She was on a joy-ride and was going to take us all with her, whether we liked it or not! And yes, she did have a stubborn side; she was always determined to get the most out of life even if it meant gritting her teeth and digging in her heels some times! (never high-heels though
Carmen was the kind of person that you couldn’t be around with out grinning and seeing the world around you in a greater light. She beamed the glory of her Saviour, Jesus Christ in each and every step even in her “Laura-Ashley” dress and acid-wash jean jacket
She looked every one in the eye and encouraged them, even without saying a word. And when she did speak, the words always seemed to bubble out of her. Carmen loved life and everyone knew it.
The way I figure she saw it, was that she lived every moment like it could be her last, which was her reality, and she wanted to leave everyone with a lasting impression. She impressed on our souls to delight in all the good to be seen and choose to see it, feel and accept it.
When it came to facing my life, I knew I was blessed, no matter what. This example Carmen set became especially poinient when I faced a diagnosis of breast cancer at 23 years old. I clung to her as a source of inspiration and as a life line to help me from sinking. I looked to the example she’d set in my life for the previous 10 years and that she continued to live, as a new bride, faithful friend and committed follower of Christ.
I realize that my “sisterhood” friendship I had with Carmen was uniquely special and that I’m lucky to have experienced that kind of relationship in my life time but what really brings me peace is believing that she’s “around” and that one day we’ll have the ultimate reunion as soul-sisters.
What you taught me Carmen, is the giving and receiving of true love and friendship, void of judgment, distaste, regret and despair. Instead you taught me how face life and death with acceptance, flair, integrity and joy. Carmen never gave up on her hope for the future, her faith in her Creator and love for all she knew. I have clung to these life lessons of hers, the great teacher that she was, and have studied, applied and implemented them into my life to the best of my ability; and when I have floundered I turned to prayer, just as she would have done.
Especially now I have been able to reflect on the life altering emotions that Carmen’s life and death propelled within me; as I start to live once again; healthy, whole and a little stronger than before. I’ve also had the opportunity to become a part of the lives of two of the young women that were with Carmen on her final night of conscious effort. They were so young, still in their teens and God has molded their lives as young women to reflect His love and the love of His servant Carmen in their eyes. As they have “looked” to me in recent months, I can’t help but see her infallible spirit, continuing on, urging others to quite simply smile.
Carmen in your life you gave us a picture of how we should live by opening the window to your soul and in your passing you dissipated our fear of death because we know you’ll be there to open the door, when it’s our turn to knock.
Psalm 19 7-11 (as paraphrased by Mike Mason)
Friendship is perfect,
reviving the soul,
Friends are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
Friendship is right, giving joy to the heart,
and radiant, giving light to the eyes.
Friendship is so pure that it endures forever,
so sure that it is altogether righteous.
Friends are more precious than gold,
and sweeter than honey.
By our friends are we warned,
and in keeping them there is great reward.
I thank God for Carmen that He put her in my life so I would know the true gift of friendship and never stop seeking it. She taught me how to be myself, trust myself and enjoy myself because she lived “doing unto others”…to all others, including me. She embodied pure joy in the midst of life’s uncertainty and has even now has demonstrated to me that embracing my sadness can feel like the biggest and best “Carmen” hug.
Let’s go and get some hugs!
I have so many wonderful friends to hug I'm not even sure where to start...I know, I'll start with the girls!! "Carmelle! Cadence!"